Frank Atha Westbury (pen names: 'Atha' and 'Atha Westbury'), was born under the name James Bleasby on May 5, 1838 in Hunslet, Leeds, Yorkshire and arrived in Australia about 1866. He grew up in industrial Leeds in the home of his grandfather, William Bleasby, and at age sixteen, enlisted in the British Army (68th Light Infantry) serving in the Crimea, Burma and finally New Zealand during the Maori uprising of 1864-65. He later claimed that he filed reports about this war for the Manchester Guardian newspaper.
Upon arriving in Melbourne in 1866, he changed his name to Frank Westbury and fell in with a literary circle that included the poets Henry Kendall, Adam Lindsay Gordon and author Marcus Clarke. After his first work of poetry, 'Trust' was published in 1879 he went on to become a prolific author of stories for Australian and NZ newspapers in the 1880s and 1890s. Many of these were romantic adventures set in New Zealand at the time of the Maori uprisings which the author had experienced firsthand.
He also wrote stories for children. In 1896, his novel, The Shadow of Hilton Fernbrook : A Romance of Maoriland was published by Chatto & Windus, followed by Australian Fairy Tales(Ward Lock, 1897). Both books were successful and were reprinted in Australia and the USA in the early 20th century. Australian Fairy Tales was among the first works of its kind to feature Australian animals and settings and won Westbury a place, alongside Ethel Turner, as one of the best known writers for children in 19th century Australia.
In addition to writing, Westbury also worked as a clerk, a secretary for Melbourne's Homeopathic Hospital and as a land agent in Adelaide, South Australia from 1881-1887, where he became friends with George Loyau, editor of the Pictorial Australian. The Evening Post (NZ) (Volume LV, Issue 119, 21 May 1898, Page 4:) notes that 'Mr. Atha Westbury, who until some three years ago was a member of the regular staff of the Melbourne Argus is well-known as the author of fiction relating to New Zealand, has just come to Wellington, and intends to take up his permanent residence here. Mr. Westbury was through the Moari [sic] war a correspondent of the Manchester Guardian and his knowledge of the colony is being given to the public in his romances'.
In Westbury's serialisations in the Pictorial Australian it is noted that 'Atha' is also the author of 'Living or Dead', 'Other People's Money', 'Brandon Westlake', 'Maoris and Pakehas', 'Australian Elves', 'Puck Piermont', 'Kiorani' and 'Gadabout Papers'. Another title,' A Baptism of Fire' is mentioned in Miller and Macartney's Australian Literature : A Bibliography to 1938 (1956 ). This has not been traced.
Westbury is referred to as female in Paul Depasquale's A Critical History of South Australian Literature 1836 -1930 (1978) and listed in Debra Adelaide's Bibliography of Australian Women's Literature 1795-1990 (1991) mistakenly as a woman author. Westbury married three times in Australia and had six children. He died of a stroke in Hawthorn, Melbourne on September 24, 1901. Source: Adapted from a biography supplied by Westbury's great granddaughter.